We Need Their Voices Today! (16) Wilfred Owen
BY TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 9 Oct 2017
John Scales Avery, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service
This is a collection of biographical sketches showing people whose wise voices from the past can help to guide us today. All of the women and men, brief glimpses of whose lives and ideas are portrayed here, gave a high place to compassion. None of them was a slave to greed. We need their voices today!
[Note from TMS editor: It will be posted one biographical sketch per week]
Expressing the horror of war
Wilfred Owen and his mentor, Siegfried Sassoon were two poets who eloquently described the horrors of World War I. They met in a military hospital, after both had been wounded in the war. Owen had been writing poetry since the age of 11, but not about war. When he became friends with Sassoon during their hospital stay, Owen was inspired by Sassoon’s example and realized that the horrors of trenches and gas warfare deserved to be described realistically in poetry. Against the strong advice of Sassoon, Owen insisted on returning to active duty in France, where he wrote the eloquent and bitter war poems for which he is remembered.
Owen was killed in action exactly one week before the end of the war. His mother received the telegram informing her of his death on Armistice Day, as the church bells were ringing out in celebration.
Here are two of Owens’ poems:
Dulce et decorum Est
“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned out backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
“Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling\
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning
In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
“If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace\
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”
The parable of the old man and the young
“So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretch\`ed forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
“But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.”
Wilfred Owen, eloquent opponent of war, tragic victim of war, we need your voice today!
16 Wilfred Owen
17 Albert Einstein
18 Edna St. Vincent Millay
19 Bertha von Suttner
20 George Orwell
21 Helen Keller
22 We need their voices, and yours!
John Scales Avery, Ph.D., who was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy and received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent books are Information Theory and Evolution and Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century (pdf).
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 9 Oct 2017.
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